Cinema Dispatch: The Bad Batch

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The Bad Batch and all the images you see in this review are owned by Neon

Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour

So has anyone else heard of this?  I certainly hadn’t heard of it until I was looking up movies to watch during a trip I was taking, and once I saw the cast I was IMMEDIATELY excited to see just what the hell it is!  We’ve got two actors who are quite possibly in the prime of their careers (Jason Momoa and Keanu Reeves) and they even managed to fish Jim Carrey out of obscurity who’s been one of my favorite actors since I was a kid; personal stuff and recent filmography notwithstanding.  How the hell did this movie manage to fly under the radar!?  Is it one of those weird obscurities that’ll be a treasured masterpiece to its target audience, or is this movie unsalvageable even with its all-star cast which is why it was dumped as a limited release?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins with a woman named Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) being dropped off in some desert wasteland which appears to be the dumping ground for “societal undesirables” that this dystopian future government has set up in Texas.  I don’t know why they don’t just shoot them in the head instead of letting them wander the desert with no water, food, or supplies, but whatever.  The point is that she’s in a harsh and lawless world filled with other terrible people that want to hunt and eat everyone they come across.  That’s right, we’re dealing with cannibals in this movie that honestly probably don’t NEED to be eating people (there are scenes that confirm editable plant life exists out here) but just like the extra protein I guess.  The bad news is that she gets caught rather early and loses an arm and a leg (literally), but the good news is that she escapes and manages to make it to a cannibal free sanctuary city known as Comfort ran by what is essentially a cult leader named The Dream (Keanu Reeves).  A bit on the nose, but I guess when you don’t have TV to watch, you basically have to add theatrics to your own life just to keep things interesting.  Anyway, from there we’re basically following Arlen who’s trying to find her place in this harsh and merciless world as well as meet a colorful cast of wasteland wanders who have their own shit to deal with, such as another cannibal known as The Miami Man (Jason Momoa), a wandering hermit who’s pretty much a True Neutral in all this (Jim Carrey), and even a little girl (Jayda Fink) who winds up with Arlen after a… particularly grim confrontation.  Will Arlen lose her soul in a world that never rewards those who are Good Samaritans?  Just what does The Dream have planned for the people of Comfort, and is it any less awful than what The Miami Man does?  Is this what a Mad Max movie would be like without the cars, interesting characters, fast pace, and exceptional cinematography!?

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“Well this is another fine mess you got yourself into!”

Maybe I should just avoid the Post Apocalypse genre altogether since there is too much about these kinds of movies that really ruffles my feathers, and unfortunately The Bad Batch is another example of such a film.  It’s not as bad as It Comes at Night which I got so pissed at that it might even end up on my Worst of the Year list, but it never feels like it has a real point to all this madness which is one of the biggest sins I can think of for a movie that goes THIS dark.  It is redeemed by a lot of REALLY solid elements and creative moments which is why I’m not really mad at it, but I very rarely enjoyed myself while watching it as it’s not just cruel and mean spirited, but is frankly kind of boring which goes back to my original point.  Unless the apocalypse has badass muscle cars, Mila Jovovich shooting machine guns, or even the banana hammock held up with suspenders look from Zardoz, I have trouble giving a fuck about how bad things can get when we make up a reason for things to get that bad.  Then again this DID have Jason Momoa in FABULOUS white pants, so add a point for that I guess.

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“Everything the light touches is my kingdom.  And I’m gonna eat it all!”

Since we’re dealing with shitty people in the post apocalypse, let’s go back to the conversation we had in the It Comes at Night review about finding the balance between investment and payoff when it comes to dark material.  I would argue that the material we’re dealing with in this movie is SUBSTANTIALLY darker than anything we saw in It Comes at Night, but simply through the execution of said material by the filmmakers, it’s a bit easier to accept here than it was in that movie.  This is a straight up cannibalism movie where our hero loses an arm and a leg to said cannibals in the first fifteen minutes of the movie and it’s presumed that there were MANY others before her who were not nearly as lucky.  They chain people up, keep them alive while they carve off sections to cook, and then eventually end their misery once they start running out of limbs to remove.  To me, that kind of material is darker and harder to sit through than what happens at the end of It Comes at Night, but where this differs from that is what it does IN ADDITION to showing dark material.  It Comes at Night was very narrowly focused on leading us to a specific end point that you saw coming a mile away, and since it didn’t want to do much else than that, there was nothing else to grab onto if the central idea was off putting to you.  This movie goes in many different directions and has a huge world that, on the surface at least, is really interesting and worth exploring.  The movie doesn’t end with Arlen getting mutilated in this overly cruel and horrifying act (which we get to see in explicit detail), rather it’s the starting point to a much bigger story about her and trying to cope with a world that is trying to rebuild itself in some way which is much more interesting, at least to me, than watching two families get paranoid over stupid shit for an hour and a half.

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“I’m certainly gonna feel THAT in the morning!”

Unfortunately though, the movie never really finds a sense of focus once she’s out of immediate danger and it just ends up meandering about for the next ninety or so minutes with no real purpose or drive.  I guess you could classify it as a mood piece as there is a lot of artistry in terms of the setting, but our main character is simply not all that interesting to follow (nor is the little kid) and her motivations rarely make any sense.  To a certain extent, I do understand that a certain amount of subtlety is needed for a performance like this as shutting down emotionally is easy enough to understand as a coping mechanism, but that still doesn’t really make for a protagonist worth following.  For the most part, the best material is given to the supporting cast such as Keanu Reeves as the verbose and narcissistic leader of the sanctuary city and even Jason Momoa as the cannibal looking for someone that he lost; both of whom have smaller parts but are given much more direction and motivation than Arlen gets who seems to simply move from one place to another without much purpose.  Heck, the best part of this movie BY FAR has to go to the most tertiary of the supporting roles in the form of Jim Carrey’s mute hermit who shows up from time to time for some solid interactions with Jason Momoa as well as a few fun gags.

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He’s gone from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas to Oscar the Grouch.

Now I went to see this movie as part of a trip I recently took to New York City and was not only lucky enough to get the last seat for the showing (at the Brooklyn Alamo Drafthouse), but it turns out the director was there as well to answer a few questions after the movie, so right away this feels like the most professional moment in my career simply through happenstance.  I did in fact get to ask Ana Lily Amipour a question which I will try to repeat the answer to here, noting of course that this is SUPER paraphrased and also filtered through my own point of view, so take it with a grain of salt.  I told her that I thought the material being dealt with in the movie (mostly in regards to the cannibalism) was incredibly horrifying and asked her what she hoped that an audience would get out of taking them to such a dark place (basically trying to get an answer to the investment/payoff conundrum I have with movies like this).  Her answer kind of solidified my opinion about the movie which was basically (again, PARAPHRASING here) that she wasn’t so much going for a message that she wanted every audience member to understand; rather she was hoping it would get different reactions from each person.  In her (paraphrased) words, she wanted her film to hold up a mirror to each and every person who saw it.  There were some who were satisfied by that (I heard a few people talking about the mirror line while walking out), but to me it wasn’t enough to change the way I saw the movie.  By the end, it felt like nothing of real significance had happened and that events we saw playing out didn’t have any real purpose to them which SOMEWHAT goes to the films positive traits as far as its atmosphere and some of its less important characters, but undercuts any sort of payoff we could get from going to such a dark place.  Also, there has been talk about one death in particular in the movie which I won’t spoil here but involves a person of color getting pretty grimly shot down with any sort of fanfare or emotional weight to it; rather it’s simply used as a way to move the plot forward.  Watching the movie, it’s pretty tone deaf and ultimately makes zero sense as far as the way one of the characters is written considering what happens later in the film.  It doesn’t feel any more malicious or pointless than pretty much everything else that happens in this movie, but it’s probably the worst executed part of this movie; only rivaled by the ending itself which is a confusing and rather mundane letdown.  Par for the course for everything else in the movie I guess, but it left a pretty sour taste in my mouth as I was leaving the theater.

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I WISH this had a Dirty Harry ending!

For some reason, I don’t want to trash this movie TOO much, and I don’t think it was just because it was my first time going to an Alamo Drafthouse as well as seeing a film director in person talking about their movie.  There’s just nothing to grab onto in this meandering wasteland of a film that gets points for some stylistic choices and a decently realized world, but can’t escape being a slog that ultimately feels pointless by the end.  I wouldn’t REALLY recommend seeing this unless you wanted to watch Jason Momoa and Jim Carrey strut around shirtless, but if it does make it to Netlfix it might be worth checking out.  Huh.  Now that I think about it, I wonder if this is the sequel to Bruce Almighty where he REALLY fucked things up…

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